Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (photo: studio08denver/flickr)

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (photo: studio08denver/flickr)

Florida’s Politicians (But Not Its Residents) Love Private Prisons

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz represents Southwest Ranches, Florida, which has been at the epicenter of a debate over a proposed immigration detention facility.  Residents of the town have consistently demonstrated their opposition to the facility, which they feel was designed and planned without much public knowledge of the proceedings.  Basically, they think they have been fleeced by CCA, who hopes to build the facility on land it already owns, into having a detention center that they fear will lower property values and present a risk to public safety.

Unfortunately, they’ve got a pretty poor representative in Ms. Wasserman, who’s basically taking a “lesser of available evils” approach.  She initially called a town hall meeting to allow residents to voice their opposition and learn more about the project.  After more than 250 people showed up to let CCA and the town council know they didn’t want a private prison, Wasserman, who had called the meeting, decided she would support the project.  She now thinks it’s a good idea and that the town should move forward, saying she thinks “it is going to be far better to have that ICE detention center there than to have any other facility that would have a much more negative impact on residents there.”  Other than a lead paint producing puppy mill, I can’t really imagine what would be worse for a community than a privately operated, for-profit human rights violations incubator.  But there’s no chance she could have been partially swayed by the nearly $20 million CCA has spent lobbying the federal government over the past decade.  Right?

Unfortunately for the residents of Southwest Ranches, Wasserman isn’t alone in ignoring her constituents interests and supporting a company with a long track record of failing to live up to its contracts.  The mayor of Southwest Ranches just basically told his constituents to pound sand, because the deal is done.  CCA owns the land, and has for a decade, so he says there’s really nothing residents can do to stop the construction at this point.  If there’s any saving grace in all of this, it might be found in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from Miami, who just sent a letter to ICE to demonstrate his opposition to the proposed detention center.  So there is at least one Congressperson from Florida who hasn’t been bought off by the industry yet.

However, Southwest Ranches is not the only front in the privatization battle happening in Florida.  As you may know, earlier this year the state was looking to privatize half of its prison system, and medical care for the entire system.  After details of the plan emerged that showed it was forced through as a last-minute amendment to the budget, the state was sued by the union representing the state’s COs, which succeeded in blocking the privatization because the plan violated the state constitution.  In the process, the Director of the state DOC lost his job for opposing the plan, because Governor Scott could not abide a secretary of corrections who had an independent train of thought that challenged his worldview idolizing privatization at all costs.

The corruption surrounding this whole mess was so blatant that the FBI and a Federal Grand Jury are actually both investigating the whole deal, starting with the former speaker of the house (who is currently imprisoned), who forced through a last-minute budget amendment (seems to be the trend in Florida…) a few years back that resulted in the construction of the Blackwater Correctional Facility.  I guess the name “Abu Ghraib” had already been taken.  The FBI’s investigation recently resulted in a search of the house of the Santa Rosa County Commissioner.  They’re apparently interested in whether the GEO Group could have effectively purchased the man’s vote with either licit or illicit campaign contributions.

And yet, amid all this; the blatant corruption; investigations by the FBI and a federal grand jury; Floridians protesting the construction of an immigration detention center, Governor Scott just keeps pushing his foolish plan to privatize the prison system.  His budget proposal for FY12 includes huge increases in the amount state employees would have to pay for health insurance, increased funding for education, and, yes, a renewal of the plan to privatize half the state’s prison system.

WTF, Florida?